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Pemilu 1994

Shooting a few messengers

On Tuesday 21 June 1994, the Government announced that publishing licenses for three notable
news publications have been withdrawn. Included among those publications to be closed were
Tempo, the nation’s premier newsweekly together with DeTIK, which had been a fast growing
newspaper and Editor a medium sized but well placed news weekly.
Following the closures I decided to visit with friends. I am fortunate to have friends and
acquaintances in each of the three news groups. The general atmosphere was one, not
surprisingly, of anger. They were also a little confused as to why exactly now such action was
taken and why it was taken against their papers and not others. Many saw some kind of link
between their closure and their active and critical coverage of the recent purchases of the East
German navy fleet at the urging of the State Minister for Research and Technology, Prof
Regardless of what might actually have been behind the decisions, the decision itself was rather
“daring” by the Government. More than daring however I think the decision is actually better
described as heavy handed, almost taken with the desire to instill fear among the others.
I am increasingly of the view that the current Government is demonstrating a weakening capacity
to maintain control in the urban areas through the subtle old strategies of co–option and seems
increasingly willing (compelled?) to resort to coercion.
This view is also taking into account considerations of the failure of the Government to ensure
that its preferred candidates or outcomes could come to fruition in recent elections for leadership
positions in PDI, NU, Muhammadiyah and even Kadin.
This kind of response may be an attempt by the Government to try to re–impose control over the
society. We went through the “peek a boo” period of openness in 1989–1990. Somewhat vocal
parliamentarians have now been removed from the Parliament. The Government seems to have
decided that the season of openness is now closed. The size of demonstrations that have actually
taken place in the main streets of Central Jakarta following the announced closures would
suggest that some people have a different opinion on the merits of openness and the role of the

{These notes were “put to paper” on 14 June 2008 and represent the recollection of my thinking at the time back in June 1994. At that time I was not really professionally engaged in political analysis. I was, however, fully involved with a major Australian national promotion event “Australia Today Indonesia ‘94”. Sadly two of the press outlets with which the promotion program had developed programs were closed, that is Tempo and deTIK. It left our press strategy a little limp! We also had to prepare for 2 visits of the PM and God knows how many Ministers – Federal and State}


Losing control

The Government has lost a series of quite extraordinary political tussles over the past few
months. I would go so far as to say this must be worst political performance of any Soeharto
administration since the beginning of the 1970s.
However let me be quite clear. The Government is in no threat of being removed or even
seriously destabilised. These losses are not regime threatening. What they do suggest however
is that the new Cabinet (appointed in March 1993) or more specifically the ministers charged
with managing domestic politics, do not demonstrate the subtle finesse of earlier administrations
in managing and massaging issues of senior personnel politics in a way that ensures the
President’s preferred choices are victorious. At best these reverses suggest some diminished
capacity in political management. More ominously it could also suggest that the government is
failing to adjust its political management approaches to a society that is evolving quite quickly in
terms of urbanisation, levels of education and familiarity with the wider world.
There are four events which I would suggest constitute losses for the Government. They are:
1. the failure to prevent the re–election of Abdurrachman Wahid as General Chair of Nahdlatul
Wahid in 1994;
2. the failure to prevent the appointment (on an acting basis) and ultimate formal election of
Amien Rais as General Chair of Muhammadiyah from 1994;
3. the failure to prevent Megawati Sukarnoputri from becoming General Chair of PDI in late
1993; and
4. the failure to prevent the election of Aburizal Bakrie as General Chair of the National
Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) in January 1994.
Each of these people represents a different form of potential opposition to the Soeharto
Abdurrahman Wahid has demonstrated that he is a potent potential political force. The collapse
of the vote for PPP in the 1987 elections was in no small way a reflection of his effectiveness to
move the public. His decision to take NU out of “official politics” left PPP suffering major
electoral reverses in 1987 with heaviest losses in area with a strong NU or NU affiliation such as
East Java, NTB and South Kalimantan. While Golkar was the main beneficiary of this change,
there should be little comfort that this new support was not vulnerable to a later shift.
Amien Rais has already demonstrated a willingness to open a dialogue on issues long considered
closed. The quinenniel presidential (re)–election has been reduced to discussions about the next
vice–president. The idea of another president remains largely a dry theoretical discussion.
Amien Rais has sought to open the door of public debate about this issue. Ideologically his
commitment to the Pancasila state is often considered suspect by the New Order elites who fear a
potential rightwing drift towards political Islam.

March 1994


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